Rick Robey will be missing his free throws in Phoenix this year, and Eric Fernsten is retired in Winchester hoping he wins a year-old grievance against the Celtics. In other words, unless Red Auerbach makes a deal between now and Oct. 28, Greg Kite is going to be Boston's backup center.
For the benefit of Mr. Kite, and 11 other rookie hopefuls, Auerbach is hosting his annual free agent camp in Marshfield this week. Kite has a chance to show Auerbach, coach K.C. Jones and the Celtic fandom that he's better than the stats he compiled at Brigham Young. History has created an uncomfortable legacy for Boston's top draft pick. Although Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and Larry Bird were all first-round selections, cynical Boston hoop junkies prefer to remember Darren Tillis, Norm Cook, Tom Boswell, Steve Downing and the immortal Clarence Glover - all of whom came to camp with a No. 1 tag.
Kite's collegiate numbers (6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting only 50 percent from the foul line) suggest that he is in line to succeed the forgettable flops of Celtic lore, but it is important to remember that the Celtics never projected Kite as a scoring stud or franchise-saver. Boston wants someone who can take up space while Robert Parish catches his breath.
Widebody Kite takes up space. Listed as 6-11 and 253 pounds, he appears somewhat smaller on the court, but says, "That's because I have short arms." "My game is around the basket," says the articulate Houston native. "I can rebound offensively and defensively, and score off the short stuff around the basket. Defensively, I can clog the middle." The Celtics would like to rest Parish as much as possible. Boston's attack started to unravel when Bill Fitch took Robey out of the rotation last winter. Parish wound up playing too many minutes, and the Celtics wasted Kevin McHale as Parish's backup. McHale was an ordinary center, and the
Celtics were doubly hurt by not having the McHale mismatch advantage in the corner.
"The way I look at it," says Auerbach, "we have three centers - Parish, McHale and Kite. McHale could play a lot of forward depending on how Kite is going." "It's great to be able to have an opportunity like that," says Kite. "I'm glad to have a vote of confidence. It looks like they need somebody to work into that role and I hope it will be me." Kite has received fair reviews at Marshfield thus far. He made 13 of 22 shots and grabbed 18 rebounds in the first two evening scrimmages. His hands and his hook shot could be better, but the Celtics weren't expecting a Bob Lanier clone.
"I think he's doing what we expected," says Auerbach. "He's got good intensity and a good body. He runs the court well. There's a lot of rookie in him, but he'll be OK." Assistant coach Chris Ford adds, "Greg's going to be a good player. He gets up and down the court well. He doesn't have the speed of Robey, but he blocks shots better than Rick did and he plays aggressively. I like the way he can go up two or three times in a row when there's a loose ball up around the rim."
The Celtics have been unimpressed with the overall conditioning of the rookie crop, and Kite admits, "You can always be in better condition. I need to get in better shape. In the pro game, you've got to be ready from day one." Kite hasn't talked to his ex-BYU teammate Danny Ainge since draft day. He says he looks forward to veteran camp in October - "I won't be awestruck," he says. "I have confidence that I will be able to play at the level of the
veteran players. I think I can compete and stay on the court with them."